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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Christopher Columbus

Maybe I just have a thing for underdogs. Like Theseus, I think that lately Christopher Columbus has been getting the short end of the stick. All around the internet I keep seeing protests about how his "discovery" of America isn't something to be celebrated, because that discovery resulted in the destruction of a wealth of diversity and a number of indigenous peoples. Don't get me wrong-- what We-of-European-Descent did to the native people of North, South, and Central America is an atrocity. It's a part of history that we should never forget, but I'm not sure that Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day should really be the focal point of that rage. Is it fair to blame one man, historical figure of influence or not, for the sins of an entire culture, for being a PRODUCT of that culture? 

We've evolved since then, or at least, by God and all that is Holy, I hope we have. We recognize that what happened after Christopher Columbus arrived, the results of his discovery, were unfair to half-a-world of people. But the fact remains that we are HERE, we EXIST, because he arrived on these shores. Maybe someone else would have arrived. Maybe America would have been "discovered first" by the English instead of the Spanish (And I'll give the Vikings their due any day of the week, and celebrate that discovery of Canada happily, and maybe America would be a better place if they had colonized--but then again, the Vikings did their fair share of raping and pillaging and destroying utterly everything they ran across, too, so I'm not sure it would have resulted in any fairer treatment of the indigenous if they had been at the helm searching for trade passages). Or maybe it would have been DECADES before someone else had the courage to look beyond the edge of the map.

Columbus had a vision of finding a new way. He was a brave man, whatever else his proclivities, to even attempt to sail out the way he did. Columbus broke out of the narrow world view his people held, and dared to dream of something different. That is something that we should celebrate-- it's something that we're still striving to master as individuals, as cultures, as people in America. We should celebrate a man who went against every known truth about the earth and persevered through determination, courage, and strength of will to find what no man-of-European-descent before him had ever DREAMED existed. Heck, it's imprinted on our own culture as Americans! Dream Big! Follow your Dream! MAKE your Dream into reality!

I don't disagree that we should pay all due respects to the people who suffered for it. I don't disagree that the people of that period had some screwed up views about human life--especially peoples who did not fit into their narrow vision of "Civility." I don't disagree that we are sometimes tempted to gloss over those issues, to forget the atrocity in favor of the glory. We absolutely shouldn't. We absolutely MUST remember, and we absolutely MUST learn from those mistakes in the past. When we forget, terrible things happen-- genocides happen. But that doesn't mean we don't owe something, culturally, to Christopher Columbus for what he accomplished as an explorer. And it doesn't mean that his courage and vision should be stamped out and go uncelebrated.

Go ahead and use Christopher Columbus day as a reason to educate about the good AND the evils, but don't demonize the man for being a product of his culture, and don't forget that he still did something incredible in setting sail. And you know, maybe the bigger lesson in all of this is not to repeat the mistakes of the past, rather than attacking the past. Maybe we should pour our energy into stamping out the hate and the bigotry that STILL exists in America. The stuff that's happening now, right next to you, to the people who are different. Gays, Lesbians, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Christians, African-Americans, Hispanics, Arabs, Asians, Native Americans, Indians, and every other people who are being oppressed RIGHT NOW.

In the past, we were jerks. We were bigots and we were cruel. We did not know how to treat people with different beliefs, different cultures, with respect. Celebrating Columbus day isn't about celebrating the ignorance and stupidity of an entire culture. It's about celebrating the fact that we are HERE. We have a(n) United States of America because of Columbus. Because Columbus wanted to sail where no other man in his world had gone before.

All that being said, I guess I can totally understand if people are pissed about the way the world is today--the way America is today. I know I am. I am SICK to death of the hate in this world. But I'm really not sure we can pin that on Columbus. Columbus should not be our scapegoat. The world is what we are making of it TODAY. Us. You and Me. Don't blame the past, or the holiday, or take away the celebration of human spirit and determination which Columbus Day embodies. Work to build a better future instead of pouring more hate into the mix.

11 comments:

  1. YES.

    I am rather ashamed to admit it took me a while to figure out what exactly Columbus day was but, in my defence, we don't have that holiday on this side of the Atlantic.

    ;)

    But YES nonetheless.

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  2. Have you seen the Buffy episode 'Pangs'? Spike (of all people!) makes some harsh but true points about history in that one (and is hilarious)

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  3. Very Well put. EXCELLENT point about the vikings. They had their own way of dealing with natives that were less subtle than introducing disease.

    I used to be a Columbus Hater. My teachers drove it into me that he was an italian devil in puffy pants. I see now it was just another platform for middle-class white hipsters to bash America and all it stood for.

    History is about taking risks, making discoveries (some by accident) and making mistakes and learning from them.

    Really excellent apologia, Amalia. ; )

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  4. Well put. I'm sad that you didn't include your argument against the whole disease introduction dealie, though. It was quite nice in its own right, ha.

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  5. Thanks everyone!

    Juliette: I am sure I've seen it, I own all of it, but I can't remember what season it was in now, or that particular episode. Though, now I want to rewatch it :)

    Beast: I only thought of that this morning, and I wrote this post last night :) But it still stands that if cells had not even been discovered, and people did not understand how diseases spread, and immunities worked, there is no way anyone could have realized they'd bring plagues with them to the indigenous people! Now, giving small pox blankets to the Native Americans in the US later-- THOSE people should be flayed, but Columbus? Totally had nothing to do with that business!

    Monica: Yeah, I'm not sure anyone would have survived to tell the tale if Vikings had landed, to be honest with you. Maybe some women taken as slaves. Columbus was a businessman--at least he saw that much value in the natives he conquered.

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  6. Nice Post!

    The Norse who founded um, Newfoundland didn't get any credit cause they were well... barbarians, were they not?

    What civilized European would have given them an ounce worth of credit?

    Anyways, For me the Eagles really did something close and on mark in "The Last Resort" which was all about Manifest Destiny and how many it killed. Its a tangent, but I think its worth mentioning in light of your comment about blaming one man for his Culture's sins. Don't.

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  7. YES! Great post.

    By pinning that sort of thing on the past or a single person is ignorant--and undermines what actually happened.

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  8. I loved every word in this post Amalia. I agree! It's phenomenal what explorers were able to accomplish and that should be celebrated. Like you said, let it be a day to remember and learn from the good AND the evil that came to pass.

    There could not have been a perfect colonization of North, South and Central America because the mindset of the past didn't allow for much beyond a conquering mentality. The fact remains, we can't know what would have happened had the so-called "New World" gone undiscovered; we can only continue on in the best way we know how, so that our own ancestors are proud-- or at least understanding-- of our decisions.

    The pendulum swings, as always; first Columbus was a hero, now he's a villain; Columbus Day was created to celebrate him, now it's an excuse to demonize him; in the end, I hope the pendulum rests where it belongs, somewhere in the center.

    Marvelous post.

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  9. Beautifully said. The demonization of Columbus infuriates me. Holding historical figures up to present-day standards is not only unfair, it negates the lessons history has to teach us. Why can't we just acknowledge and learn instead of judge?

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  10. Christopher Columbus is nothing but an evil, coldblooded, calculating genocidal mass murderer !. How can anyone celebrate this guy who enslaved, murdered and butchered millions of Indians !. I fucking hate Christopher Columbus. He's a man possessed by and working for the Devil!. He should have hanged for his crime ! Please abolish Columbus Day now !.

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